The Winery Dogs naming their sophomore album “Hot Streak” can conjure up many thoughts or visuals. A few just off the top of my head include, the band is on such a “Hot Streak” since their debut album, so-and-so is on a “Hot Streak” at the poker table or seeing adult-film actress Siri run naked down the street would be considered a “Hot Streak”! No matter how you take the album title, there is no denying that Richie Kotzen, Billy Sheehan and Mike Portnoy, collectively known as The Winery Dogs, are on a HOT STREAK in terms of success and creativity since the release of their debut album in 2013.
Recorded in a similar fashion as their debut. The band convened at Richie’s home studio In January of this year to begin the songwriting process. Once the band had the skeletons for over a dozen tunes the band went their separate ways leaving Richie to come up with lyrics, vocals, melodies and other parts for the songs. Once that aspect was done, the band re-convened at Sully Erna of Godsmack’s Serenity West Recording in L.A. to tweak parts, lay down overdubs and background vocals. The album was then sent to Jay Ruston to mix. The album is due in stores and at digital retailers this week courtesy of Loud & Proud Records.
I’d been thinking of changing up how I format my reviews. Since I like to review each track of an album and can get a tad long winded, I figured doing an actual track-by-track review of the album from here on out. This will allow me to focus more on each track or not if I don’t think it deserves much of a review and make it easier on the reader’s eyes having it broke up instead of in paragraph form. Here we go…..
“Oblivion” is the oldest tune on the album having been written during a break in the bands’ touring cycle for their debut album and performed live after the break. It is also the first single off of the new album. As far as the track itself, it is, in my opinion, what those who are familiar with the individuals comprising The Winery Dogs would expect from the band considering their reputations as musicians. Although fans of Richie’s work pre-The Winery Dogs have witnessed him step away from the shredder he became known for in the early 1990’s and focus his energy towards the song & vocal delivery. This tune is a nice “flashback” for old school Kotzen fans like myself.
It is a musical tour de force from the blazing fretwork supplied by Richie and Billy to the machine gun fire drumming of Mike. I must admit when Mike released his drum cam video of “Oblivion” on YouTube, I was disappointed it didn’t include any clips of his frenetic foot work. As much as I digg Richie’s slower soulful vocals, it is nice to hear him cut loose vocally. His range is well suited for either!
“Captain Love” is downright infectious. I think it’d make the ideal second single. It has a good groove, plenty of hooks and some swagger to the delivery of the lyrics. Billy lays down a solid groove with Mike at the start of the solo section before Richie does his thing. The solo can be best described as a bit of funky shred but doesn’t veer into the wanking territory most shredders seem stuck in.
“Hot Streak” is the obvious title track. It sees the band laying down some funky groove. One of my favorite aspects of the tune is Richie doubling his guitar parts with his voice in spots. It has always amazed me how his guitar tone and voice are almost interchangeable. This should be a fun tune in a live setting.
“How Long” starts off with Billy and Mike laying down the rhythmic foundation before Richie begins adding his six-string prowess. I really dig the vibe of this song, it takes me back to Richie’s 1995 solo album “Inner Galactic Fusion Experience” as far as his vocals and playing. He really gives the wah-wah a workout and the chorus kicks off with what should be an epic crowd participation moment when done live.
“Empire”, upon my first spin of the tune, I thought I was getting a “Breaking News Bulletin” after the initial five seconds of the song! Oddly, per an interview the band posted on YouTube, the song almost never was. Thank you Mike Portnoy for pushing Richie to finish it! Anyone else sense the “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” vibe in the verses? This cut is a rarity as it features a slide solo from Richie. It’s in the top three of my favorite tunes on the album.
“Fire” is an eerily beautiful ballad showcasing Richie’s haunting vocals and nylon-string guitar nuances. Mike & Billy really lay back in the song adding subtle flourishes instrumentally while letting their vocal harmonies add the most impact. Another favorite that induces goosebumps.
“Ghost Town” picks up the tempo a bit from the previous track. I’m not sure if Richie used a bit of Auto-Tune or another effect on his vocal track in the verses but it has a really cool vibe to it. Vocally, this could have fit on Richie’s 2006 solo album with Billy Sheehan, “Ai Senshi ZxR”.
I recall Richie posting a photo on Instagram showing him using a hollow body guitar while recording this tune. Yet another slide solo from Richie. Overall, the tune finds The Winery Dogs adding to their already colorful musical palette.
“The Bridge” showcases the air-tight rhythm section of Billy and Mike. Lyrically, it’s as rhythmic as the playing of the rhythm section. This is definitely a tune that’ll take more time for me to get into.
“War Machine” got my hopes up as I was really hoping it was the band covering Kiss’ “War Machine”, no such luck. However, it does not disappoint! While I don’t know if the lyrics are based on real events but whoever she is, I wouldn’t want anything to do with her! (*insert theme from “Psycho” here)
“Spiral” is the most musically adventurous song the band has done to date and an instant favorite to my ears. This song is an audio slab of trippy ear candy! Billy lays down some galloping bass while Mike’s playing really serves the song thanks to his toned down used of kick snare and high hat. Basically, he is the timekeeper but he makes up for it elsewhere on the album, as he should, given his skills! I was confused as to what instrument(s) Richie used for some of the tune but thankfully I came across a new interview where he divulges what he did. Mind blown!
“Devil You Know” has The Winery Dogs collectively cutting loose on their respective instruments. This should please longtime fans of either member especially in the solo section. Another tune that will grow on me with more listens.
“Think It Over” is a piano driven number with a definite Soul and R&B vibe, vocally & musically. As long as my ears aren’t failing me and if I was a betting man, I’d say Richie’s weapon of choice on this tune is his good ol’ red Vintage Vibe, as seen below.
“The Lamb” starts with some eerie Hammond organ underneath Richie’s crooning before the band joins him on this uptempo romp. A nice way to end this album.
UPDATED WITH REVIEW OF JAPANESE BONUS TRACK:
“Solid Ground” starts off with some beautiful acoustic work from Richie before he comes in with another soulful vocal. The first verse is pure melodic bliss with Mike and Billy adding their stellar harmonies to the mix. An acoustic driven track with subtle inflections of percussion courtesy of shakers and possibly a tambourine. The band trades off vocals throughout the song. The middle section finds Richie coming in with some delicate piano. I can’t stress how awesome the three part harmonies are on this track. They take it to an epic level.
It is no secret that I’m an avid fan of ALL of Richie Kotzen’s work. Hell, I was dubbed a “Richie Kotzen nutswinger” by those colorful folks on the Metal Sludge Gossip Board years ago. Since the first time I heard his debut vocal album “Fever Dream” back in 1990, I was hooked. I’ve followed his career intently since then but I’m not so blinded that I can’t admit when something isn’t as great as I think it can be, see the majority of his 1999 solo album “Break It All Down”.
I’ve been a casual fan of Billy Sheehan since his days with David Lee Roth and loved his contribution to Richie’s 1998 solo album “What Is” & was overjoyed when Richie joined Mr. Big in 1999. The two albums they did together with Mr. Big are the best work Mr. Big has done in their career and that is saying A LOT considering their discography. He’s been praised as being the Jimi Hendrix of Bass Guitar and that honor is well deserved. He has blazed a trail with his innovative playing, technique and tone. You hear a Billy Sheehan bass lick and you KNOW it is Billy!
I must admit, while I’ve known of Mike Portnoy’s incredible talents for twenty plus years, I was never a fan of his previous band. Prog just isn’t my thing but nobody can deny his talent on a kit of any size. He is well versed in many styles and one of the greats!
I was excited when it was announced that Richie, Billy and Mike were joining forces but I was also worried that the results would be an ego wank-fest. The moment I was done listening to their self-titled debut album in 2013, all my worries went away. Each guy had their spotlight but served the songs and that continues with “Hot Streak”!
To sum up my feelings about this album after being in constant rotation at home, work or in the car for the last two weeks. “Hot Streak” is one of those albums that grows on you with every listen. Some tunes will instantly grab you while other tunes you may notice something subtle after multiple listens that makes you go “Ah-ha, now I get it!” This album isn’t leaving my rotation anytime soon as I know there are more subtleties and nuances to be discovered!
Why the Japanese bonus track “Solid Ground” was left off the U.S. release is beyond my comprehension. I think it would do very well as a single and video if given the opportunity. Here’s hoping that sales are strong enough to warrant Loud & Proud Records issuing a ‘Deluxe Edition’ in the future and adding it to the release. It deserves to be heard by everyone.
Also, I’d be doing an injustice to the album if I didn’t rave about the fantastic job Jay Ruston did with the mix. Often times, parts are pushed too far up in the mix that they take away from the song, not on “Hot Streak”. Every part serves the song and is blended together like a perfect secret recipe. Mr. Ruston proves time and time again that he is one of the best in the business.
“Hot Streak” isn’t easily digestible ear candy for the masses, this is what music is supposed to be, wonderfully crafted songs played by people who’ve spent years learning their respective instruments, melodies, hooks, amazing harmonies, catchy songs, thought provoking lyrics, songs that either make you want to have fun, cry, reminisce or escape.
The Winery Dogs – Hot Streak
October 2, 2015 via Loud & Proud Records
2. Captain Love
3. Hot Streak
4. How Long
7. Ghost Town
8. The Bridge
9. War Machine
11. Devil You Know
12. Think It Over
13. The Lamb
14. Solid Ground*
* = Japanese Bonus Track
The Winery Dogs:
Richie Kotzen – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano & Keys
Billy Sheehan – Bass & Backing Vocals
Mike Portnoy – Drums, Percussion & Backing Vocals
Julia Lage – Background Vocals on “Oblivion” and “Empire”
Lineu Andrade – Mandolin on “Solid Ground”
The Winery Dogs
Purchase The Winery Dogs “Hot Streak”:
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The Winery Dogs “Oblivion” Official Song Stream:
Richie Kotzen answers why The Winery Dogs are special